The laundry gets to me, its bright colors neatly arranged by size. French theorist Roland Barthes might have called it a “punctum.” That’s the heart-stopping detail in a photograph whose personal connection pierces you and holds you. And who doesn’t relate to laundry? But the “punctum” is not limited to photographs. To walk through these ruined households is to feel the same combination of dismay and recognition over and over again.
The worst thing was looking into his eyes. That was anyway about all I could see of him, since his face was masked with a filthy cloth, lest he be photographed and identified. Not that there was any likelihood the police would bother him in any way.
I spent part of today wondering which I hated more: sheer stupidity or pure human malevolence. I guess it’s what might be called an academic question. As our friend Guy said, the real killer is when the two come together.
He was like one of those rocky hills in South Hebron, a living, breathing, feeling mass of sunlight, rain, wind, earth, and stone. Though he wasn’t all that tall, he always dwarfed everyone around him. The soldiers and the border police were afraid of him, because he told them the truth and gave no quarter.
It’s 8:00 on a winter morning as we arrive in South Hebron, and immediately there is a call: settlers attacking in Tuba. Five of us—Guy, Yigal, Noah, Yossi, me—tear off over the gravel-and-goat paths , through the desert, to Tuba. Guy is driving as if he were flying a plane or flogging a horse. The car careens over the rocks, kicking up dust. They need us. Now.
Abu Isma‘il says: “How long can a person live? Sixty used to be old. [Abu Isma‘il is 62.] Let’s say that today people live till seventy or eighty. It’s not very long. Why would anyone waste his little lease on life by stealing from others, by inflicting pain? By giving in to greed? Filastin, this land, used to be paradise, jannah. Allah created it as the jannah. Even now—just look around—it would be paradise, fruitful, peaceful, gracious, if only the settlers and the soldiers…..”
Dawn at Dir Jarir. One herd of sheep is already out on the hills with Khairi’s son. They’re grazing not so far from the noxious outpost of Maaleh Ahuvia, but for now things are quiet. No settlers in sight. That sentence reveals the story of Dir Jarir. Dawn, noon, dusk, midnight, and all the hours in between– demented teenage settlers can turn up at any moment, in the Palestinian fields, in their makeshift tents, and even in their homes. They threaten and bully them, often they beat them, and always they invade their fields, vineyards, olive groves, and grazing grounds, wreaking havoc. The shepherds and farmers live in a state of terror, and the apparatus of the State is unwilling to intervene. There are good reasons to think that the army in the area stands with the settlers. The police are reluctant to come to Dir Jarir without an army escort.
For miles around Ras at-Tin there is little but rocks, empty hills, yellow grass, and a few passing clouds, except for a dusty rock quarry about two miles to the west named for the settlement Kochav Hashahar. The closest settler outpost is the ironically named Malachei Hashalom, “Angels of Peace,” the tormenters of Ein Rashshash. Sometimes, in their spare time, they also harass the people of Ras at-Tin– a small community of Bedouin shepherds, about 120 souls, leading their lives, hurting no one. Lots of children. Lots of sheep. Lots of fiery sun.